This is where it all began—just ask Alice.
Alice B. Tolkas published her famous cookbook in 1954, and it included a recipe for “Haschich Fudge.” The recipe, submitted by a friend for use in the book, was reportedly meant as a joke.
But that joke was heard ’round the world. Sales of the book took off, and its famous recipe—soon dubbed “pot brownies”—put the concept of cannabis edibles on the map.
Today, legal cannabis baked goods like cookies and brownies are staples in dispensaries. According to Cannabis Products data partner BDSA (formerly BDS Analytics), Boulder, CO, based on consumer feedback gathered in March and April 2020, about 70 percent of cannabis consumers have consumed edibles, and 45 percent have tried baked goods. And within the cannabis baked goods category, cookies represent about 55 percent of total sales, with brownies comprising about 20 percent of sales, per BDSA data from January to April 2020.
Sweet Grass was founded in 2009 in Denver, making it one of the first legal cannabis bakeries in the U.S. industry, notes Jesse Burns, marketing manager. “Since inception, the brand has prided itself on a true crop-to-cookie delivery method made special with slow-simmered, triple-strained, full-flower cannabutter.” The product line is distributed to nearly 400 recreational and medical dispensaries throughout Colorado. “In March of 2020, Sweet Grass joined the Infusiasm family of cannabis brands,” he notes. “Sweet Grass will continue to specialize in delicious and innovative baked goods as part of this new portfolio.”
People like the nostalgia of baked goods. “I think it brings back memories of Grandma’s cookies, or memories of their first edible,” says Pete Feurtado, Jr., CEO, Big Pete’s Treats, Santa Cruz, CA, which has been in the California industry since 2009. “Long before cannabis was legal, people were infusing brownies and cookies at their home. We hear a lot of stories about that from our customers. In most cases, the customer would rather buy one of our cookies and know exactly how much cannabis is in each cookie.” He notes that it’s hard to know how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is in each cookie unless you go through a thorough testing process.
Big Pete’s Treats offers a wide range of mini cookie varieties, including Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Cinnamon & Sugar, and Lemon, each with 10 mg THC per cookie. The Double Chocolate cookies come in an indica-specific variety. The products are distributed to over 100 California dispensaries.
The newest flavor, launched in July, is a Birthday Cake cookie. “It’s a vanilla-flavored cake batter cookie with sprinkles,” says Feurtado. “Over the last few years, we’ve noticed this as a new, exciting flavor that young people gravitate toward. We are also in the final R&D stages of our Coconut cookies that will be vegan and gluten-free.” Brownie Bites are also in the works, and he plans to offer a retail cannabutter product.
The cannabis industry encompasses a wide range of shopper demographics these days, so offering a variety of product options is more important than ever. To that end, Big Pete’s Treats also makes its Chocolate Chip cookies in a sativa-specific variety with 5 mg THC per cookie, as well as a 10:1 cannabidiol (CBD) to THC variety.
Lauren Finesilver, kitchen manager, Sweet Grass, notes that a top trend in edibles today is microdose products, loosely defined as portions consisting of 2.5 mg THC or less. “In baked goods, this trend is manifesting as smaller, snackable pieces that help educate the consumer on how they experience a measured serving of THC,” she says.
“Baked goods, inherently, have a nostalgic appeal,” says Finesilver. “Infused baked goods companies are using unique—yet familiar—flavor profiles to tap into those fond memories from the past.”
This emotional connection opens up opportunities for specialty products released as limited-time offers. “We’ve seen more and more seasonal offerings associated with events and holidays throughout the year,” says Finesilver.
The rise in home baking also dovetails nicely into edibles trends. “Even prior to recent lockdowns, we observed, and participated in, a big uptick in infused ingredients for DIY baking at home,” says Burns. “This has empowered home chefs to put gourmet twists on everyday products.”
Sweet Grass offers a range of recreational cannabis-infused cookies, including Chocolate Chip, Snickerdoodle, White Chocolate Chip Butter Pecan, Peanut Butter, and Ginger Molasses, all offering 10 mg THC per cookie, as well as a Double Chocolate CBD Cookie, made with a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC. Other bakery products, like its Peanut Butter & Jelly Cup and Brownie Bites, have 10 mg THC each. Medical products include a 50:50 ratio Chocolate Chip Cookie with 65 mg each of THC and CBD, a Peanut Butter & Jelly Cup and mini Pumpkin Pie (seasonally) with 75 mg THC each, and a range of 100-mg THC cookies. Sweet Grass also offers its house-made cannabutter for sale to the public.
“The ‘pot brownie’ is the quintessential cannabis edible,” says Burns. “This baked good paved the way for infused baking as we know it today for the simple reason of how easy it is to make with infused cannabutter.” He notes that this product format is highly prevalent in popular culture and familiar even to non-consumers.
“Everything we make is with cannabutter,” says Feurtado. “This is the highest-quality way to make edibles, because the slow-cooking process of our butter gives our cookies a full spectrum of cannabinoids.” For vegan cookies, they can use a coconut oil infusion.
Feurtado notes that Big Pete’s Treats works with local farms to secure the best-possible trim (the cannabis remaining after trimming harvested flower). “The cannabutter recipe is our secret sauce,” he says. “We slow-cook the cannabis with butter and water. Then we process the butter into blocks. Once the cannabutter is processed and fully homogenized, we test the butter for potency. This allows us to adjust the amount of cannabutter we use to ensure each batch of cookies is consistent.” A key benefit of cannabutter is the fact that it provides a full spectrum of cannabinoids.
Finesilver notes that Sweet Grass makes all of its cookies and brownies with its cannabutter. “This infusion method is much easier than using solvents to extract the THC,” she says. “For this reason, products that can be made with butter have been extremely popular for years.”
The cannabutter at Sweet Grass is a key quality-control measure for its baked goods. “It all starts with cannabis flower,” says Finesilver. “The quality of the input will dictate the quality of the final product. Quality, as it applies to cannabutter, is determined through potency testing.” After decarboxylation of the flower, where the THC is activated through heat and time, the flower is measured, tested, and then slow-simmered in butter for a proprietary amount of time. “Lastly, the butter-flower mixture is strained, cooled, and tested a third time before it can be used to create baked goods.” Staff test product potency again once the cannabutter has been baked into a cookie or brownie. “Strong SOPs in the kitchen ensure consistency between batches.”
Burns notes that Sweet Grass is vertically integrated with its own cannabis cultivation so that the business can directly control its quality inputs.
“Cannabutter is an infusion, meaning the THC from the plant actually bonds with the fat molecules in the butter,” says Finesilver. “This allows for maximum absorption by the liver and a more-robust cannabis experience.” She notes that “mix-in” concentrates, on the other hand, can be more difficult to work with given their high concentration and sticky consistency. “Homogeneity, meaning the even distribution of THC, is key for cannabis food products.”
Offering a homogenous product allows consumers to titrate products (incrementally adjust the dosage) and still have equivalent experiences, says Finesilver. She suggests that it’s always easier to achieve homogeneity with a cannabutter infusion versus a mix-in concentrate.
Feurtado sees a strong future for cannabutter sales for home baking. “I think people will get more and more creative as time goes on,” he says. “DIY products are exciting. You can’t find a cake at a dispensary, and it would be hard to make that in a compliant way to sell at the stores. I think people will be into making their own edibles at home for special occasions.”
Looking toward future opportunities, Burns sees great potential for baked goods in social, public settings. “As social consumption laws are fleshed out around the country, there will be more opportunity for infused baked goods in more traditional bakery and coffee shop settings.”